A California man was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison Monday for attending an al-Qaida terrorist training camp in Pakistan and plotting to attack targets in the United States.
Hamid Hayat, a U.S. citizen who turned 25 on Monday, was convicted in April 2006 of providing material support to terrorists and lying about it to FBI agents. Prosecutors said he intended to attack hospitals, banks, grocery stores and government buildings.
Federal Judge Garland Burrell Jr. said Hayat had “returned to the United States ready and willing to wage violent jihad when directed to do so.”
Hayat had no visible reaction when the sentence was read, and his family sat quietly in the back of the courtroom. Outside the courthouse, his relatives lashed out at the prosecution.
“We were expecting justice. We did not get justice. My son is innocent,” said Hamid Hayat’s father, Umer.
The case began after an FBI informant befriended Hayat and began secretly tape-recording their conversations. During those talks, most of which were in Hayat’s home, Hayat discussed jihad, praised al-Qaida and expressed support for religious governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
His defense lawyer, Wazhma Mojaddidi, has said those sentiments were nothing more than the idle chatter of a directionless young man with a sixth-grade education. She said the government had no proof her client had ever attended a terrorist training camp.
Defense: Confession was coerced
Ultimately, jurors were swayed by a confession that was videotaped during a lengthy FBI interrogation. Hayat’s lawyer said the confession was coerced after agents peppered him with leading questions and wore him down during an all-night session.
Hamid Hayat’s father also was caught up in the case, but a federal jury deadlocked on whether he had lied to federal agents about his son’s attendance at the camp. Umer Hayat later pleaded guilty to lying to a customs agent about why he was bringing $28,000 in cash to Pakistan several years earlier.
The younger Hayat, who could have received up to 39 years in prison, had no previous criminal record.
Government officials said they were pleased with the sentence.
“No one in the FBI is happy that a young man has been sentenced to spend 24 years in federal prison,” said Drew Parenti, FBI agent in charge of the Sacramento region. “But at the end of the day, those were his decisions and the consequences are now clear.”
The case against the Hayats grew from a wider federal probe into the 2,500-member Pakistani community in Lodi, a farming and grape-growing region about 35 miles south of the state capital.
That investigation began shortly after the 2001 terror attacks and focused on whether Lodi business owners were sending money to terror groups abroad.
The case caused tension in the town, where Pakistani immigrants have been part of the community for more than a century. After the Hayats’ case arose, trust was shaken between Muslims and non-Muslims, with some Pakistanis saying they feel shunned by other residents.
Two Muslim clerics ensnared in the wider investigation were deported for immigration violations.